In 1986, Hanns Peter, an anthropologist from far away Austria, classified Aboriginal boomerangs. He looked at their varieties in the context of geography, enhancing his efforts with neatly organised statistics. His classification, with the first systematic mapping of boomerang types, was an important step forward in the ethnographic studies of Aboriginal artefacts.
The conclusion I have drawn from this data is that just five of the most prevalent types in his Classification make up nearly eighty-four per cent of all boomerangs. These are:
- Common 30%
- Central Australian 18%
- Kimberley 12%
- Lake Eyre 12%
- Cooper Creek 12%
The many other boomerang types account for just sixteen per cent of the total. Most of these varieties are unusual, even startling. While Peter's Common type was widely used in Aboriginal Australia, the Central Australian type is not only far more restricted, but nearly exclusive in the core area of its distribution.
It is tempting to speculate that the Common type can be thought of as something akin to a prototype boomerang. It was designed to fly well. Its small version branches towards a returning toy-boomerang, the large version verging into a typical hunting kind. In some ways the Central Australian type is the most remote from this model. It is asymmetrical, club-like, with a curved head and a nearly straight long handle. It can be both hand-held and thrown, but cannot return.
In an attempt to beat their technological dilemma, the Aboriginal people produced a range of boomerangs which departed from the standard regular designs with returning potential. This partially explains why so many different types were invented. A few designs were most widely adopted. The search for the perfect hunting boomerang was no doubt carried out through brain-storming and experimenting with prudent eyes seeking universality and balance.